Rihanna New Album Review: Chris Brown Duet and Offensive Pop Make For a Mixed Bag

Rihanna’s latest album Unapologetic comes exactly one year and one day on the heels of her previous Talk That Talk. The singles from that album are still in heavy rotation on pop radio. Ri has drawn some criticism for rushing this new album onto her fans before they’re through drooling over the old one, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem. Unapologetic has fewer radio-worthy singles to drool over. Unapologetic will add a few to radio rotation, but none are so irresistible that they’ll push out “Where Have You Been?” or “We Found Love.”

Unapologetic doesn’t have any superbangers like the two just mentioned. There are no fun innuendo songs like “Cockiness (Love It)” or “S&M”. The album’s first single “Diamonds” is the thinnest, driest Rihanna single we’ve had in a while. That all being said, there are still plenty of enjoyable songs on the album. It’s just that a lot of them are too musically complex, emotionally complex, or too repulsive for pop radio.

The album is very much a mixed bag. Very little cohesion. Piano ballad follows raunchy dubstep tune, follows hiccup-pop/chopped and screwed record, follows ridiculous disco wife-beater anthem — yes, the surprising and already infamous Chris Brown duet “Nobody’s Business.” 

Everyone who writes about this album has to dedicate a paragraph to the Chris Brown feature.

I know that a lot of people have a lot of very strong feelings about the Rihanna/Chris Brown relationship. I don’t, but I know I have to tiptoe here. I like to believe that most people have a better idea of what they want and need in their lives than others around them do. Rihanna could have any man in the world, pretty much. She is not trapped in this relationship, as many in violent domestic relationships unfortunately are. There are different variables here. If Chris Brown is the man she wants to settle for, Chris Brown is what she should have.

“You'll always be mine, sing it to the world
Always be my boy, I'll always be your girl
Ain't nobody's business, ain't nobody's business
Ain't nobody's business, but mine, and my baby”

is what Rihanna sings, and I think she’s right, for the most part. But one line of the song particularly disturbs me: 

“Your every touch becomes infectious.” 

I don’t know if Rihanna really thought about all the implications to that line when she wrote it. It speaks directly to the view of many pundits that Rihanna’s acceptance of Chris Brown and his violent tendencies makes domestic violence seem okay or “romantic” in the eyes of other young girls. Rihanna is in a way, saying that these pundits are right. I really hope for all of womankind’s sake that Chris Brown’s kind of touching does not become infectious and spread into other homes.

On the whole, the album is solid. Rihanna tries a little bit of everything, and shows the range of her talent. “Phresh Off The Runway” is the raunchiest song I’ve heard her do (she says f*** 8 times! And b**** and n**** a whole bunch more). No radio play for that one. “No Love Allowed” has a cool reggae feel, although it does not vary much once it starts bobbing.

Unapologetic is full of all the edginess and mania that has defined Rihanna as the beloved character she is. She bares it all, she shows the cracks in her mental state, and she’s unapologetic about it. Does Rihanna need therapy? Yes, probably. But it all makes her seem very real. The same cannot be said for most other pop idols.

I give it a score of 7 glow-in-the dark vodka cocktails out of 10.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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